Nik arrived at the Vasilver residence by cab, a little after eleven in the morning. Nik’s flaccid wallet had been refilled by gifts from his petitioners over the last few days: no single gift had been sizable, but the collective sum had been sufficient to provide a tolerable bonus to his staff while Nik retained enough to pay for ordinary incidentals.
Vasilver’s butler ushered him into the same expensive, formal parlor as before. Nik sat in one of the two green-and-gold velvet brocade chairs this time. The elaborate tapestry rug was missing, revealing a parquet floor patterned in blond wood with walnut-stained accents. Nik hoped his father’s spilled tea had not ruined the rug, although its absence improved the room, relieving it of some of its clutter and allowing a sense of openness.
At the sound of footsteps in the hallway a minute or two later, Nik rose. The figure who entered was Mr. Vasilver, however, not his daughter. Savior forbid we lack a chaperone. He can’t be as annoying about it as my parents, at least.
Mr. Vasilver’s long narrow face looked surprised but not displeased to see him: anxious, perhaps. “Lord Nikola! Thank you for calling.” He shook Nik’s gloved hand before gesturing for him to resume his seat. Vasilver sat on the couch opposite.
Nik made a polite inquiry as to the welfare of Vasilver and his family, and received an automatic reply. A query on the state of Vasilver’s business was answered with equally meaningless civility. After a few moments of awkward silence, while Vasilver’s brown eyes darted nervously about the room, Nik said, “I do not wish to keep you, if this is a bad time for you. Or your daughter?” He half-rose.
Vasilver’s features contorted, horrified. “No, no, not at all, please, Lord Nikola.”
If you are waiting for me to read your mind, sir, we will both be waiting a long time. Nik re-seated himself, consciously relaxing, hoping his calm would prove contagious.
After another uncomfortable pause, Vasilver leaned forward over the inlaid coffee table and blurted, “Did you come to treat my daughter, my lord?”
Treat her to what? Nik gave the older man a blank look. “I beg your pardon?”
Vasilver ran an anxious hand through his dark, receding hair. “I couldn’t ask her to petition, you understand, not and face the additional stigma if she’s incurable. But I’m sure you noticed her…condition.”
Nik blinked. “No. I did not. What condition would this be, sir?”
The older man scooted to perch at the edge of the couch, lowering his voice. “You know. You saw how she was with you and your parents. That dreadful contract. She doesn’t comprehend that it’s not normal – she’s got this, this—” he broke off, hands waving vaguely.
Nik stared at Vasilver as if he were a new and particularly repulsive kind of bug found crawling on a sleeve. “The technical term you are looking for, sir, is personality.” Icicles dripped from each word.
Vasilver cringed. “Yes, but—”
“I am afraid you have misunderstood the nature of my Blessing. The Savior uses me to heal minds and treat mental illness. Contrary to what you may have been told, a personality is not a disease.” Nik’s quiet, clipped tones did nothing to hide his disdain and disgust. “A desire for clear communication is not a defect. Your daughter’s actions demonstrate no mental illness—” you, on the other hand – Nik cut himself off as footsteps clicked in the hall. Mr. Vasilver stared at Nik, shocked.
Nik rose smoothly as Miss Vasilver stepped into the room; her father took a moment longer to recover himself and follow suit. She wore a violet gown dotted with tiny yellow flowers, and a matching short jacket. It suited her light golden-brown complexion and the time of day. Her hair was pinned by a comb on one side of her head and the rest left to drape in dark curls over the opposite shoulder. Nothing could make her long face or board-like figure beautiful, but it softened the severity of her features. She curtsied with perfect correctness to him. “Lord Nikola. This is a pleasant surprise.” Her even voice sounded neither pleased nor surprised; Nik wondered how much of the conversation she had caught. Does she know her father regards her as defective? How could she not? Perhaps her cold demeanor towards him was part wariness of his Blessing. Maybe she fears that I am here to ‘cure’ her.
He tamped down the surge of renewed anger at Mr. Vasilver. “Miss Vasilver.” In a gesture calculated for her father’s benefit, Nik took her hand and bowed to kiss the air over it. “Thank you for receiving me.”
“You are very welcome.” Her gaze flicked to her father, back to Nikola, away again. “Please, won’t you be seated?”
Nik clenched his jaw at the thought of spending the call pretending to be civil to Mr. Vasilver. He untensed and said in his best nonchalant tones, “In truth, I should like some air. Would you do me the kindness of showing me the grounds, Miss Vasilver?” That should be public enough that the old fool won’t feel the need to follow us to defend his daughter’s virtue.
“It would be my honor,” Miss Vasilver answered. “Will you be joining us, Father?”
“No…no, I have…things I should do.” Mr. Vasilver waved a hand. Nik imagined the man no more wished to feign normalcy than Nik did. “You go on ahead, Wisteria. A pleasure to see you, Lord Nikola.”
Nik gave a slight nod in acknowledgement and followed Miss Vasilver out.
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